Monday, October 26, 2009

My Pose For The Month - Boat Pose (Navasana)

I have chosen Boat Pose (Navasana) for my pose for the month of October. Navasana may look like an easy pose but being able to balance on your sitting bones with your legs straight in the air requires a lot of core strength. As such, Navasana is a good pose to build core strength as it strengthens the abdominal muscles. The full boat pose works the abs, the hip flexors (inner thighs) and the back.

The benefits of Navasana include:

• Strengthens abdominal muscles to provide efficient support for abdominal organs
• Lengthens and strengthens the spine to prevent backache
• Strengthens and tones the abs and hip flexors
• Helps relieve anxiety, stress and tension
• Helps improve digestion and counteracts constipation

How to do the pose

Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Press your hands on the floor a little behind your hips, fingers pointing toward the feet. Lift your chest to elongate your spine and press your weight into your hands. Your weight will balance on your sitting bones.

Exhale, bend your knees and lift your feet off the floor, angling your thighs 45-50 degrees off of the floor. Lengthen your tailbone into the floor and pull your navel in slightly. If you are feeling strong, slowly straighten your knees, raising your toes above eye-level.

Reach your fingertips toward your ankles, feet parallel to each other and the floor. Press your shoulder blades inwards and downwards to your spine while reaching through the fingers. You may also hold onto your thighs above the knee for support.

While the lower belly should be activated, it must remain relaxed. Keep the bellybutton moving inwards. Breathe gently and completely. Elongate your neck by tilting your chin slightly towards your chest.

Remain in this pose for several breathes. Sit upright with an inhalation.


In Half Boat, your knees will remain parallel to the mat, bent at 90 degrees.

You may use a strap around the soles of your feet with your knees bent, gripping it firmly in your hands. With an inhalation, lift through the chest and mid-back and as you exhale, lift and straighten your legs. Press the balls of the feet firmly against the strap.

Points to note

While practicing Navasana, you have to keep your back flat and your spine should be held erect. It should be kept in mind that your lower back should not be rounded and your chest should not droop. The knees should be bent in a position such that the shins became parallel to the floor. Tip your chin a little toward your sternum so that the base of your skull lifts a little away from the back of your neck.

For beginners, this pose becomes easier if only one leg is straightened at one time. If you separate the legs while forming a V-shape with the body, it will help in stretching the inner thigh muscles.

Check out the video below for the proper alignment in the Boat Pose.

Navasana Yoga Posture (Boat Pose) - Click here for the funniest movie of the week

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Activating Your Bandhas

I am reproducing the article below which I found in GaiamLife Blog which I find to be very good information for all yogis. I have spoken to a few practitioners and found that they have no idea how to activate their bandhas and some of them have not even heard about bandhas.

Bandhas 101: How To Amplify The Benefits of Any Pose
By Sadie Nardini

My student Mary came to me nearly in tears one day after class. She’d been working for years to get into a headstand, yet continually watched newer students lift up with ease before her. She asked, “What am I doing wrong?”

Since Mary had come into my yoga classes only the week before, I asked her if she was using her bandhas to help her attain headstand. “What’s a bandha?” she asked, looking puzzled.

This reaction is quite common among yogis today. And without a proper knowledge of how powerful the bandhas — classical muscular “locks” at the pelvic floor, abdominals and throat — can be in your practice, you’re missing out on a whole new world.

Usually used in pranayama, the vision of a super sucked-in tummy or triple chin at the throat can be confusing. After all, we can’t use such massive movements in an active asana practice. It could cause constriction of oxygen and blood flow. That’s OK for short periods while sitting but not while getting a heart-pumping workout

So, many teachers don’t focus on these three areas, and it’s a real shame. Adding the bandhas to your poses can instantly create the power you need to go that extra few inches and rock those pesky arm-balances and inversions. They help contain your prana (energy) and help spark your central nervous system into action.

If you need proof, simply sit, drop out your pelvic floor and relax your belly so you can’t sit up straight. Now try to breathe. I call this posture “yuckasana.” Notice the difference when you engage your pelvic floor and draw in your abdomen. You should become instantly more alert and taller. Now breathe through your nose. Voila! Freedom. The bandhas support the spine for greater range of motion and safety, and they are the root of your most expansive breathing.

After one bandha session, Mary showed immediate improvement. She was self-generating her full headstand within a month.

During the asana portion of class, I prefer to call the bandhas “lifts,” as the word “lock” can cause students to grip too firmly. If you learn to apply them during your active classes, you too will speed light years ahead in your yoga practice.

The 3 bandhas (and how to activate them in order)

To activate your bandhas, use about 25 percent of your maximum effort, just enough to keep your spine and head in optimal mountain pose alignment. Release the bandhas completely once you come into savasana, final resting pose.

1. Mula Bandha: The Root Lift/Pelvic Floor

Active muscles: levator ani, coccygeus, pyramidalis (wraps into lower belly)

How to: Gently engage and lift your pelvic floor muscles (the ones in a diamond from the pubic bone in front, the tailbone in back and the sitting bones on either side) as if you have to go to the loo, but there’s no loo to be found.

Prevents: energy drainage, weak PC muscles, incontinence, reproductive organs dropping

2. Uddiyana Bandha: Upward Abdominal Lift

Active muscles: transversus abdominis, rectus abdominis

How to: Draw your navel in and up as if to touch the underside of your heart. At the same time, draw the points of your lower front ribcage slightly closer together. Lift from the inner body.

Prevents: lower back stress, weak abdominals, loss of breathing capacity, lower ribs jutting forward and straining mid back/spine

3. Jalandhara Bandha: Throat Lift
How to: Draw your soft palate back and up until the crown of your head sits in line with your pelvic floor.

Prevents: dropping the head back in backbends and compressing the back neck spine, jutting jaw forward and straining upper back/cervical spine, loss of blood flow to head.

Sadie also wrote on "How to use bandhas to power up commonly frustrating poses" in the article. Read the whole article in GaiamLife Blog.

Sadie Nardini is the owner of The Fierce Club, a Core Strength Vinyasa yoga studio in SoHo, NYC, whose Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga DVDs are Top 10 bestseller.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Comfort Foods to Feel Better and Stay Healthy

When we are feeling down, we often indulge in comfort foods as a mean to help lift our spirits. Are these some of the comfort foods that you would eat – ice-cream, chocolates and potato chips – to give yourself that “pick-me-up” feeling? These comfort foods may be able to give a boost to your spirits but at the same time, they would also boost your weight by adding fat and calories and they have low nutritional value.

Below is a list of comfort foods that can help to made us feel better and stay healthy at the same time.

Dried Apricots

Dried Apricots are delicious as snacks as they have a rich, sweet tart flavour. With every bite of the dried fruit, you are helping your body fight infection, repair damaged tissues, build strong teeth and bones and improve your eyesight. Apricots are naturally fat and cholesterol-free and a good source of dietary fiber and potassium.

Miso Soup with Tofu

A hot bowl of miso soup with tofu will surely lift your spirits. This delicious soup has lots of health benefits which include reduced risks of breast, lung, prostate and colon cancer and protection from radiation. Miso strengthens the immune system to combat infection and its high antioxidant activity gives it anti-aging properties. It is also loaded with other nutrients such as protein, vitamin B12, vitamin B2, vitamin E, vitamin K, choline, linoleic acid, lecithin, and dietary fiber. Miso can also help to chase away “menstrual blues” as it is able to fill estrogen receptors and produce some of the actions of estrogen in the body. The tofu in the miso soup not only adds taste but also have health benefits as it is high in protein, low in saturated fats and a good source of calcium as well as vitamin E.

Dark Chocolate

If you love chocolates, choose dark chocolate which has far more antioxidants than milk or white chocolate. The antioxidants in dark chocolate derived from the flavonoids found in cocoa protect blood vessels from undergoing oxidative changes that result in certain diseases. A small bar of dark chocolate everyday can help keep your heart and cardiovascular system running well. Apart from protecting your heart, dark chocolate also stimulates endorphin production which gives a feeling of pleasure and serotonin which acts as an anti-depressant.

Fruit Yoghurt

The frozen variety tastes pretty similar to its ice cream counterpart, only with less fat. Yoghurt is a useful source of calcum and phosphorus for strong bones and teeth. By adding fruit, you’re only adding more minerals and vitamins. Cool and soothing, this comfort food is a perfect snack, yet tastes sweet enough to ease your pain.


Nuts are easy and accessible comfort foods. They are also rich in vitamins and minerals, all energy boosters and stress busters. The top four healthiest nuts to consume are almonds, walnuts, pecan and cashew nuts.

Containing high levels of healthy monounsaturated fats, almonds help in reducing cholesterol levels and improving cardiovascular health. The magnesium in almonds can be especially calming.

Walnuts are a great source of omega-3 essential fatty acids which protect the heart, improve cognitive function and reduce inflammatory effects of asthma, eczema, psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Pecans contain an abundance of nutrients (over 19 minerals and vitamins) including folic acid, vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, copper, potassium, phosphorus, manganese, vitamin B and zinc. Like almonds and walnuts, pecans provide heart-healthy properties by reducing total blood cholesterol, reduce LDL cholesterol, and create clearer arterial flow.

Cashews are rich in magnesium, copper, iron, zinc and biotin. Cashews contain the lowest percentage of fats compared to most nuts and provide high levels of oleic acid (about 50% of the total fat in cashews), the same fat found in olive oil.

Other notable nuts that provide nutritional benefits and healthy sources of fats are hazelnuts, peanuts, chestnuts, pistachios and macadamias.

Nuts can also be filling, helping a person stave off hunger and thus, regulate blood sugar. Most nuts are consumed on their own, by the handful, which can easily lead to consuming lots of extra calories. Avoid mindless eating by pre-portioning your nuts in small bags.

If you have any healthy comfort foods, feel free to add to the list.

You can also check out this website for recipes for 20 classic comfort foods which are as flavourful as the original dishes, but contain significantly reduced levels of fat, cholesterol and sodium to help you on your way to a heart-healthy lifestyle.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Practising Ashtanga Yoga

I had posted in my FB status that I was thinking of what to write for my next blog post and a suggestion was given to write something related to Ashtanga Yoga, like my experience in practicing it (thanks, Gwen!).

So, this post will be about my experience practicing Ashtanga Yoga. My Ashtanga practice only started in Beyoga as there were no Ashtanga Yoga classes in YZ Damas during the evening classes although I did go to a few Ashtanga Intro classes in YZ The Weld. There was a Mysore class in the evening but I did not join the class as it was an advanced Ashtanga Yoga class where you need to know at least the sequence of the Primary series as you will be doing it on your own. The teacher is only there to give some adjustments as appropriate.

Anyway, back to my Ashtanga practice. It has been about four months since I have been going to the Ashtanga Led class on Thurday with Azmi in Beyoga. In an Ashtanga Led class, the teacher will lead the class and instruct the students in the order of the poses, usually in the Primary or Intermediate series. As it is a 90 minutes class, normally, we will do all the poses in the Primary series but Azmi might skip some of the poses which he feels that the students would not be able to do such as Marichyasana D (twisting and binding your hands in a way that seem impossible to do, I am still unable to do this pose without Azmi’s help). Kurmasana and Supta Kurmasana (I still can’t do these two poses too!). Sometimes, we get to practice to drop back to Urdhva Dhahurasana, with Azmi providing the support for us to hold onto as we drop back and come back up to standing. The class will end with the posses in the finishing sequence which include Shoulder Stand and Head Stand.

When I started practicing Ashtanga yoga, I find it quite exhausting as it is a vinyasa-style practice and we have to do a lot chaturangas and jump back (the vinyasa between each pose to keep our body warm). But with regular practice, the vinyasas are getting easier as I build up stamina and the chaturangas help to build my arm strength.

What I like about the Ashtanga class is that the practice teaches me to focus on my breathing, drishti and bandhas and with a regular and disciplined practice, I learn to control my breathing, have better awareness and develop my concentration and coordination.

As the poses are in sequence, I can see my own progress in the poses every time I attend the class. I am now able to do the Chakrasana without Azmi’s help and each week, being able to advance further in a pose gives me a sense of achievement.

Ashtanga Yoga will appeal to yogis who like a sense of order as I have heard comments from other practitioners that they find the class boring as the poses are the same every time they go to the class. I find that it takes dedication and discipline to be able to do the poses in their sequence every time as you need to remember the sequence of all the poses in the series if you going to practice on your own.

If you are a beginner to yoga, I would recommend you to go to an Ashtanga class only if you know the fundamental poses such as Sun Salutation A & B, Warrior 1 & 2 and Triangle pose as these are the poses you will be doing at the beginning part of the Primary series.

Ashtanga Yoga synchronizes the breath with the poses to produce internal heat which results in profuse and purifying sweat which detoxifies the body. The result is improved circulation, a supple, light and strong body and a calm mind.

Beyoga has just started an Ashtanga Led class on Sunday at 9.00 am. Come and join the class if you are an Ashtangi and need a place to practice. If you are a beginner, you can join Azmi's Astanga Intro classes at 10 am on Wednesday or Friday at 6.45 pm.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Head Stand (Shirshasana)

During the last two Ashtanga classes at Beyoga, I have been able to go into Headstand without putting my legs on the wall. But only managed to stay in the pose for about 3 to 4 breaths and have to come down when I felt my legs start to wobble. Still need to overcome the fear of falling and learn to relax and concentrate on my breathing.

The Headstand is known as the “King of Asanas” as there are many benefits to be obtained from this pose.

• The Headstand increases circulation to the brain, which causes improved brain function (intelligence and memory) and increased vitality and confidence.
• It improves many ailments, such as nervousness, tension, fatigue, sleeplessness, dullness, fear, poor blood circulation, bad memory, asthma, headaches, constipation, congested throat, liver or spleen, for female disorders, the initial stages of eye and nose troubles, and general lack of energy, vitality or self confidence.
• It stimulates four of the most important endocrine glands - the pituitary, the pineal, the thyroid, and the parathyroid glands that are responsible for our very existence, for they keep the body mechanism in good working order. Pituitary gland is called the master gland of the body. As a consequence, the practice of the headstand helps us to get relief from many of our troubles, physical as well as mental, or to prevent them. It has a very beneficial effect on the whole body.
• It promotes hair growth by increasing circulation to the scalp.
• It helps to put the spine into correct alignment.
• It restores the position of vital organs by reversing gravity.
• The quality of sleep is improved. Poor sleep is often due to an excess of nerve impulses from the reticular formation to the cerebral cortex in the brain. The headstand causes an increase in circulation to the neck, which stimulates the baroreceptors in the neck. This calms the reticular formation down, causing reduced nerve impulses to the cerebral cortex. This results in a peaceful, deep steep.

Doing the Headstand

• Kneel down on your yoga mat. Measure the distance between your elbows (fingertips to opposite elbow) placed on the floor in front of your knees.
• Clasp the hands in front, interlacing the fingers and place them and your forearms on the yoga mat. Keep the elbows fairly close together.
• Place your head on the floor, cupping the back of the head with the hands, thumbs extended up along the the back of the neck. It's important here to have placement on the very crown of the head and NOT the forehead.
• Rise up off your knees and take a step or two towards your head.
• Inhale, and slowly raise the legs until they are vertical. Push the elbows and shoulders directly into the floor, lifting the upper-body, creating a slight gap between the floor and the top of your head. Hold and breathe.
• To come down, bend your knees and lower one leg and then the other.
• Rest in child's pose.

At the beginner's stage, do the Half-Headstand.

Pull one knee into the chest. Inhale as you pull the second knee into the chest and hold. If you're unable to pull the second knee in his position, then practice alternating pulling in one knee and then the other, until the strength is there.

The majority of your weight here is on your arms. Focus keeping the elbows in place, driving them into the floor, lifting weight off your head. Keep your knees into the chest. Resist the temptation to raise them and stacking your weight into your neck. This will build strength and awareness.

Practice half-headstand for several weeks (or longer), along with leg-lifts and dolphin pushups.

Check out the video below on the safer approach to the Headstand that saves the spine and builds the core and arm strength.